Forbes is pondering whether AMD's move into ARM chips is positioning the company for a sale. Other media outlets are considering whether or not the move is setting the stage for heavy competition with Intel on the server side.
Let's take a look at the facts. AMD's move to design 64-bit ARM technology-based processors in addition to its x86 processors is a bold strategic move. AMD is targeting cloud and data center servers with its first ARM technology-based processor, which it says will be a highly integrated, 64-bit multicore System-on-a-Chip (SoC).
AMD is optimizing for dense, energy-efficient servers that now dominate the largest data centers and power the modern computing experience. AMD's first ARM technology-based AMD Opteron processor won't hit production until 2014. If AMD is looking to get acquired, it's a long-term bet. And if AMD is hoping to one-up Intel, it's going to be awhile -- and Intel likely has enough time to counter.
Tapping a Growing Demand
There's a lot we don't know. But here's what we do know: AMD's new design initiative addresses the growing demand to deliver better performance-per-watt for dense cloud computing solutions. Unless Intel shifts its strategy, it's probable that AMD will be the only processor provider bridging the x86 and 64-bit ARM ecosystems. If all goes according to plan, that would pave the way for new levels of flexibility and drive optimal performance and power-efficiency for a range of enterprise workloads.
Rory Read, president and CEO of AMD, is reminding the naysayers that AMD led the data center transition to mainstream 64-bit computing with AMD64. He's now predicting AMD will lead the next major industry inflection point by driving the widespread adoption of energy-efficient 64-bit server processors based on both the x86 and ARM architectures.
"Through our collaboration with ARM, we are building on AMD's rich IP portfolio, including our deep 64-bit processor knowledge and industry-leading AMD SeaMicro Freedom supercompute fabric, to offer the most flexible and complete processing solutions for the modern data center," Read said in the product announcement.
Bridging the Gap
AMD has identified a market need. It's true that the explosion of the data center is offering an opportunity to optimize compute with vastly different solutions. AMD is providing a compute ecosystem with more choice by including solutions based on AMD Opteron x86 CPUs, new server-class Accelerated Processing Units (APUs) that leverage Heterogeneous Systems Architecture (HSA), and new 64-bit ARM-based solutions.
"The industry needs to continuously innovate across markets to meet customers' ever-increasing demands, and ARM and our partners are enabling increasingly energy-efficient computing solutions to address these needs," said Warren East, CEO of Cambridge, England-based ARM Holdings.
Is AMD Making a Good Bet?
AMD is betting on the ARM partnership to drive the next phase of its strategy to push to market ambidextrous solutions in emerging mega data center solutions. At least a few analysts say it's a good bet.
"Over the past decade the computer industry has coalesced around two high-volume processor architectures -- x86 for personal computers and servers, and ARM for mobile devices," said Nathan Brookwood, research fellow at Insight 64.
"Over the next decade, the purveyors of these established architectures will each seek to extend their presence into market segments dominated by the other. The path on which AMD has now embarked will allow it to offer products based on both x86 and ARM architectures, a capability no other semiconductor manufacturer can likely match."